Posts Tagged ‘United States of Europe’

An ultimatum game of ichi-go ichi-e

There was an opportunity, one meeting at Osaka for world leaders at the recent G20 summit. A valuable starting point for the policy-makers, faced with a menu of economic theories, is trust in each other and a new inter-disciplinary approach with an emphasis on ethics and economics. Climate change, migration and displacement, IoT and 5G, global income inequality, household mortgage debt, value of drinking water and food shortages present a grand ethical challenge. In 2015 we asked has economics become an illusion? An era of wistful economics:

Taylor Principle

This time, however, global economic policy should be less about money supply and demand, less about central banks modelling and the private sector and more about the strategic interaction between these ethical challenges.  There is an urgent need for coordinated action to stimulate the global economy with fiscal and monetary measures. The EU is fragmenting. Whither the Euro? Today, Federal debt is projected to jump to a record 144% of US GDP by 2049. There is a debt mountain in China reported at 250% debt-to-GDP. As the Scylla of the Taylor principle (of high interest rates when there is high inflation and low interest rates when unemployment is high) causes a modelling whirlpool with the Charybdis of the Ramsey approach to optimal monetary taxation, the appropriateness of an ethical fiscal policy as a stabilisation tool may calm the waters. So, more fiscal stimulus is required.


On a macro level, world politics is more about China’s transition to greater exchange rate flexibility and the internationalisation of the Chinese RMB. We had presented on this point in Shanghai in 2012. It’s a long game. In other words, RMB v US$ is an infinite game of playing the game not a finite game of first mover advantage. . A weaker RMB would probably mean a stronger US dollar and vice versa. We are reminded of Japan’s exit from its dollar peg in 1971 as today the game is one of reserve currency competition, whether or not the US dollar is destined to lose its standing as the preeminent international currency to Sterling, the Euro or the RMB. Trade wars, competitive devaluations, Brexit, military conflict create sudden disruptions to growth at a moment in time.

Productivity Bonus

As a countermove we become risk-averse on currency fluctuations. But there is a curved ball from the EU and the US regulators as their antitrust focus on big tech. Based on the presumption of a negative effect on competition it relies wholly on an attack on monopoly rents as a reward to innovators. Nonetheless, shareholders and investors and pension funds gain too. However, if the model builders could adapt the McKenzie model of classical general equilibrium theory so that technology is available to any company who can supply the resources required, ultimately, by happenstance, competition and innovation will coalesce into a productivity bonus. Big tech and technology could then be viewed as a way to escape classical monopoly by innovating to compete. To do so would require the equivalent of the 1919 Colgate doctrine for big tech, facilitating the introduction of new technology by allowing each of the big tech companies to decide, on its own, with whom to do business. They exercise discretion on innovation and technology; we, as onsumers,  decide. Our behaviour, after all, is less measured by prices, supply and demand but more influenced by small changes in innovation and technology over shorter time periods.

Onsumers & Complexity

Albeit, our policy advisers and central bankers are less likely to ever move away from the standard Ricardian DGSE models of economic analysis. There is a sunk cost to the modelling.  A key assumption in this model is that households like you and I are a homogeneous family of infinitely lived individuals. Really? This is 2019 and a more realistic and heuristic approach would address the fact that individual’s behaviour changes over shorter time periods with innovation and technology. Our well-ordered lives bring the occasional disturbance that can be characterized by an unmanageable degree of complexity. In our real world, we as onsumers, for example, shopping online, continue to bid against ourselves in the search for the best algorithmic deal.  In practical terms we do not behave as hyper-rational beings. At every G20 there is a risk-bucket and world leaders may get a chance to try again at another meeting; at this G20 there was one chance to try: ichi-go ichi-e. The ethical challenges of climate change, mortgage debt, migration and displacement, IoT and 5G, global income inequality, value of drinking water and food shortages all collapse into a generalized ultimatum game in which we as players must agree or we all get nothing.

Soft Law: Google & The Coffice

The EU regulators should settle the long running case[1] against Google. They should present Google with the opportunity to amend any alleged or putative anti-competitive practices. Markets are evolving eco-systems – contest, combat and scramble market systems[2] – and new markets are created by technology. The challenge for the law is how to handle technology not in terms of the application of black letter competition or antitrust law but in terms of how differences in company treatment can be justified. Technology impacts on existing markets, it creates new commodities, it displaces old commodities, and in some respects a sceptic could begin an economic analysis by disputing the very premise of a market as understood in this case. Is there an alternative?

Frozen Markets

Yes. In the book Political Economy of Law we introduced the concept of a frozen market.  If you are reading this Blog on a laptop or smartphone while sipping coffee conducting business in your favourite coffee house – you are in a ‘coffice’ – half coffee half office[3] facilitated by the smart technology created by Google and myriads of new and evolving companies. As an antitrust practitioner you can recognize a frozen market (empirically) as the market with zero prices, long-run marginal cost converging to zero, scope economies in functionalities, time dependent consumer preferences, aged competition, technology convergence and average fixed costs declining.

A frozen market is a market that evolves as companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Uber, Facebook, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Twitter, Spotify, Symphony inter alia, discover new products, new services, new production and delivery processes. Former beliefs about competing and innovating change as end-user coffice workers demand more and firms risk lagging behind the technology curve. In traditional markets monopolies were transparent and the impact of monopoly power, for example, was defined in terms of alleged higher monopoly prices. However the new architecture of the Internet and cloud computing makes centralised control of services going over IP technology almost impossible. Using IP technology information can quickly reroute around and within specific countries. Regulators will not be able to implement rules on products and services in the evolving frozen markets. EU competition and antitrust law runs the risk of lagging behind technology companies. The treatment of personal data and the owneship of the data is an equally important topic.

Legal Principles to Adapt

Google today, new start-ups tomorrow are companies in a frozen market, companies that evolve from a latent underbelly of technology struggling to meet new challenges and set new standards in a modern evolving economy. In disputing the very premise of a market as understood in antitrust a case could be made that Google is neither an abuse of dominance nor a monopolist case; the perfect ‘frozen’ market does not imply perfect competition – the bedrock of modern antitrust. Rather, Google is a data-driven platform, an information pharaoh facilitating new innovative firms in the sharing economy, start-ups touching every aspect of our daily life. It is the creator of a momentum effect across myriads of multiple goods and services. Start-ups search for growth in an eco-system as we breathe for life with the intensity and frequency of effort and investment to affect our eco-system of life both human and economic. Technology is of the essence. Legal principles are adapting to reflect both the concept of a market as an evolving sharing eco-system but more needs to be done.

Indeed the intricacies and entanglement of engagement that companies face with Google provide a network of unavoidable transaction costs and insurmountable gains and leverage. This allows start-ups to grow exponentially in a technology convergence type of competition where cooperation and joint enterprising is more the norm than competing as frozen markets ‘thaw’ out to create new and unimagined products and services. There appears to be some resistance in the inn of black law antitrust for an alternative definition of a market as an evolving eco-system despite the importance of evolving technology to economic activity and to the innovation process.

Soft law

There is also a need to redefine ‘competitor’ in an era of rapid innovation and technological change. Arguably there is no black letter law directly germane to Google activities in the 21st century nor should there be an unquestioning and unchecked progress of Google and others in the technology market – but every effort should be made to amend, adapt the black letter law to facilitate rather than retard Google and the leveraged industries it has helped to create. Regulators should benchmark Google against a soft law of zero prices, long-run marginal costs converging to zero, economies of scope in functionalities, time dependent consumer preferences, aged competition, technology convergence and average fixed costs declining.

We need a soft law approach to Google. There is a need for further integration of the economics of technology and information markets into antitrust and legal reasoning with less focus and emphasis on competition in the product market and more focus on market systems. In the nineteenth century Alexis de Tocqueville once remarked[4] that ‘only a newspaper can put the same thought at the same time before a thousand readers (p517)’. Today, in the 21st century, Google and the Internet are doing that and, at an alarming speed. Ultimately, in assessing the merits of any case centred on geography, frozen markets and the role of technology, cloud computing and Internet information, law may be as relevant as the colour of the judge’s eyes.

[1] Check

[2] Described in McNutt (2014) Decoding Strategy

[3] Read

[4] Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1841 classic text: Of Democracy in America, vol 1 and 2.

Wistful Economics

Economics of times past, of Adam Smith and Keynes alas! Has economics become an illusion? Yes. It is an accidental tourist in the political landscape. Economic policy making is[1] ‘but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage’ of natural numbers, coupled with policymakers throwing[2] ‘sixes and fives in games of chance’ and ‘as wise folk know the conditions in every country’ – targets and trends, patterns and probabilities. All the policymakers are merely players; they have[3] ‘their exits and their entrances sans teeth, sans eyes, san taste, sans everything’. There are no hard lines of distinction. Deflation may be temporary if capacity is absorbed by the real economy. However, a finite measurable increase in sales (thus, output) cannot be secured by small marginal reductions in price. Some industries are depressed and household balance sheets are insolvent. Ah, there’s husbandry in heaven and ‘a heavy summons lies like lead’ upon[4] the ECB: US dollar strength against the Euro is due to deflation in Europe and deflation in Europe is driving up the US dollar. Policymakers ‘cannot sleep’; with their ‘eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws, and modern instances’ they are actors in a Shakespearean play of infinite length as big data, social media and the Internet of Things transform real lives.

In a deflationary period a mismatch in prices and quantities occurs as companies and consumers both fear to spoil the chance of getting a better price later. This fear in a moment in time creates a short period. Competition breaks down and imperfections – for example, short term working, poverty and inequality, exchange rate volatility, competitive devaluations and lower wages – emerge with lasting impact.

Without China’s continued growth, there is no economy in the world large enough to absorb further contraction in the EU and the US. Only those who believe that economic policy making is akin to a Shakespearean play ‘full of strange oaths’ will enjoy the summer recess. But action is required now if deflation’s short period is to be defeated, best illustrated by the life of the mayfly than that of an elephant. A menu of policies should include a return to managed global exchange rates for a period of time, fiscal stimulus in order to ease domestic debt burdens and a continuation of QE in the EU. Falling prices are little comfort for the indebted householders and unemployed. The policymakers[5] sentence all of us to the sentence: ‘there is to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, to the last syllable of recorded time’. It is better to end austerity now than regret doing economics by numbers.

[1] Act V Scene V Macbeth spoken by Macbeth

[2] Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales The Man of Law’s Tale 1st Part 130-134

[3] Act II Scene VII As You Like It spoken by Jaques

[4] Act II Scene I Macbeth as Banquo enters.

[5] Act V Scene V Macbeth spoken by Macbeth

Who Owns our Personal Data?

 Who Owns our Personal Data?

Personal information and data stored in the cloud have an inherent high ‘tradable’ value – they facilitate the discovery of patterns.  We trust the providers and processors and distributors of the data, they retrieve our personal data and they can and do use it. Our data is now a tradable asset. But who owns the information? In Chapter 12 of our 2010 book Political Economy of Law we had discussed property rights and consumer e-needs in an Internet era arguing for the integration of the economics of information into legal reasoning. There is a new challenge for the law, relying on ‘material facts at time period t when technology has already taken the market to time period t+T (pp306)’. Google believes that the information it is harvesting is its own by virtue of the harvesting. But you and I, as e-consumers, have claim rights to our personal data. Data exchange has become a transaction and we need to ask: who benefits from the trade in our personal data?

At the recent Midland’s Think Tank in Mullingar, Ireland, I raised this issue in the context of how we could use this market exchange to our advantage in Ireland? A cloud services free trade zone [FTZ] in personal data and data patterns was presented as worthy of consideration.

At the Think Tank a range of interesting presentations were outlined and provided a great platform to showcase the greatest technology advance since the 1980s digital revolution – the Internet and all its applications.  The Internet is part of our daily lives. Not only is it the screen in front of us but also the back infrastructure of wires and machines.  We were told that there is an exponential growth in data and a reliance on data. Individuals are outsourcing memory to smart devices such as smartphones and tablets; we are reliant on pre-authorised smartcards, buying tools and Apps to support basic queries and purchases. SEPA when rolled out will smooth electronic transactions. Companies are migrating from in-house IT to outsourcing data storage.

We have become datified…..

In the June 2013 edition of Foreign Affairs the authors Cukier and Mayer-Schoenberger argued that we have become datified – Google’s augmented-reality glasses datify our gaze, Twitter datifies our thoughts and LinkedIN and Facebook datify our professional and personal networks. Datification, we contend, is a pre-requisite for third parties as they begin to extract an inherent ‘tradable’ value in our data patterns. But who owns the information? Do Google and Facebook, for example, own our data?  The EU Commission in their definition of ‘personal data’ in the Internet era are debating the traditional rules of data protection viz 2014 General Data Protection Regulation. Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, commented recently in Global Insight that ‘personal data is the currency of the digital economy’ and that by 2020 it will account for 8% of EU-27 GDP.

Our data is at least worth the equivalent of 8% of EU-27 GDP before exchange and trading. Tradable personal data is a good example of the frozen market concept introduced in Political Economy of Law. Frozen markets uniquely evolve from ‘a latent underbelly of technology struggling to meet new challenges and set new standards in a modern economy (pp312)’. We should recognise the frozen market and persuade governments to transfer the trade in personal data to a cloud services free trade zone in personal data and data patterns.  With so many start-ups and legacy IT companies in Ireland, there may be an opportunity to bring them all together under one umbrella – a cloud services free trade zone, providing storage solutions, security and surveillance capabilities. The cloud zone could be designed as a ‘special services’ zone similar to the Shannon FTZ.  All IT companies registered would enjoy a 3 -5 year sunset clause of special tax incentives for employing IT staff. Information would be stored and processed into data patterns in the cloud zone. It is only when the data is traded does it become subject to Irish value-added tax or custom duties.

Free Trade Zone in Personal Data…

Mixing a tablespoon of skilled labour with a dose of FTZ is a recipe for baking the projected 8% of EU-27 GDP into an employment cake of highly productive Stakhanovite workers in the age of automation, technology and innovation.

One way to integrate the complexity and potential of the cloud is the organisation of a cloud free trade zone, subject to legal, regulatory and environmental issues. It could be established under an Irish or pan-European variant of the US inspired 2009 Alternative Site Framework [ASF] initiative, by re-organising the Shannon FTZ into an alternative site framework in cloud services spread across ‘magnet sites’ from Mullingar to the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. In this the 50th anniversary year of the Shannon FTZ it could be part of planning for the next fifty years of economic growth in Ireland reliant in part on personal data as a tradable asset.  Data security is paramount and our reliance on the data-keepers is dependent on trust and on transparency in their use of our personal data. A cloud services FTZ in personal data could provide both trust and transparency. Questions may arise – do we really own our personal data patterns? Who benefits from any trade in our personal data? Answers should be diverted into exploring options that will create new job opportunities in an Internet age characterised by a shrinking role for human labour.

Drifting into a debt-recession trap

The despondency that has attached itself to the financial crisis is ‘taking shadows from the reality of things’. Dante would not approve. Europe is drifting into a prolonged recession as policy-makers worry about inflationary expectations and competitive devaluations. Households hope to be delivered from this agonizing crisis.  Are there solutions? The following is a grand narrative of policy options, contingent on a managed exchange rate regime, an idea first aired in the Letters to Editor page of the Financial Times in 2009. G20 has not acted. They meet in Mexico – maybe recent Yen, RMB, Euro, Sterling, Swiss Franc and US Dollar movements may persuade them to look at the role of exchange rate fluctuations ‘midst this financial crisis as Europe drifts into a debt-recession trap.

Drifting into a recession

There is a palpable sense of despair and hopelessness, a lack of demand yet inflationary expectations have become embedded in the policy-maker’s crystal ball. The real economy of households and companies is shrinking in a vacuous cycle of intermittent growth as rising bond prices and lower yields improve the real economy of the investor. Banks, the exogenous factor in the policy-makers’ macro-economic models, still fail to understand that job creation, time-to-build technologies and innovations require a flow of credit. Personal balance sheets are moving into safe harbours, given the wealth destruction that has occurred in the property and equity markets and will continue for the foreseeable future. Anybody who can is saving, more are spending less. Welcome to the debt-recession trap.

Household balance sheets

Recovery must be centred on the household balance sheet; however, household budget patterns are unpredictable. Current decisions depend on expectations of what future policies will be. This is a conditioned response for households in a debt-recession trap. The mismatch between policy-maker and reality creates a short period – a phenomenon that households imagine if they change demand and spend more the other households will neither keep demand unchanged (so all increase demand and prices go up) nor continue to keep their behaviour unchanged (so bargains become available to the first mover) if they alter their behaviour. How each household responds depends on how each believes the other will respond. The result is demand is less, output is less and the recession is prolonged.

In the interim, households have adjustment costs – no interest income from government bonds, no dividend income from company-issued equities and minimal after-tax spend so unlike in the macro-economic models of our Central Banks, households are not seeking to maximise the concave single-period utility function subject to a budget constraint wherein the present value of consumption equals the present value of disposable income. Savings, for example, in a debt-recession trap signal to policy-makers that rational householders are experiencing low levels of expenditure in the present period due to the short-period phenomenon thus reducing the marginal utility of expenditure in future periods. So there should be a greater willingness to spend when the personal balance sheet are restructured.

Policy prescription: reduce income taxation to increase after-tax spend

QE and the US Dollar

During the Great Depression banks restructured their balance sheets; reduced loans in absolute and relative terms and invested (mainly) in government bonds. Isn’t this happening today? The ECB/Bundesbank believes that purchasing government bonds is tantamount to monetising government debt, thus leading to high inflation or a loss to the ECB on a government default. Paradoxically pre-crisis banks were turning government bonds from across the Euro zone into cash at the ECB, as governments borrowed and the banks relied on short-term funding. So really, all Central Banks – the Fed, BoE, BoJ and even ‘the outright monetary transactions’ policy at the ECB/Bundesbank facilitate the buying of government bonds – so why the mystery?

The Fed signals less worry about inflation through QE and the printing of money. Lowering interest rates may be devaluing the dollar but it is facilitating increased US export competitiveness. Central Banks that want to support their currencies are willing to increase interest rates. The Fed does not. The US dollar has been captured by Fed announcements. It is widely accepted that QE has contributed to a weak US dollar.

Exchange rates

When Timothy Geithner described China as ‘a currency manipulator’ in 2009 the exchange rate became politicised. More recently, Jens Weidmann, President of the Bundesbank, expressed concern about Central Banks’ efforts to revive exports by facilitating competitive devaluations. Did he have the Fed in mind?  Music to the ears of Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega, who first signalled the ‘currency wars’ in 2010 as Brazil worried about an overvalued real. Its current account deficit is now contributing to a reduction in its economic growth. And the new PM of Japan, Mr Abe has had an impact on the Yen’s exchange rate pushing it from 78 per US dollar to 89 as he asked the Bank of Japan to double its inflation target to 2% – and to buy government bonds until that target is met.

Policy prescription: looser monetary policy and higher inflation targets

China and the Yuan/RMB

Elsewhere we had argued that Yuan appreciation will not and cannot solve the Sino-US trade imbalance. China in time, will, we had argued then, move to a more flexible exchange rate regime but at its own pace. It could occur during the 12th Five-Year-Plan 2011-2015 as economic growth in China becomes less reliant on export-led growth. By 2015 China trade and FDI flows will have moved away from US and Europe and more towards what we had described as the ASLEEP economies We agree with Professor Subramanian at the Peterson Institute for International Economics that the RMB could displace the US dollar as the leading reserve currency in the next decade. Trading nations and TNCs are already diversifying into RMB – being able to trade in RMB reduces transaction costs and mitigates currency risks for exporters. Liquidity from China could relieve any inflationary pressures in trading economies.

Solution Template

Many trading nations are considering a looser monetary policy combined with a higher inflation target – it presents an optimal policy and an escape hatch in a debt-recession trap. An inflationary bias in the conduct of monetary policy might be optimal if inflation shocks can lead to (welfare enhancing) increases in output. Albeit, any comparative statics exercise emanating from policy-makers’ models should be interpreted with great caution. A looser monetary policy could drive their respective currencies lower but any hope of sustained growth will be frustrated by a beggar-my-neighbour policy of competitive devaluations in the race to win the greater share of increased exports.

As previously outlined, a period of managed exchange rates may be required under the auspices of G7, and ultimately G20. Europe, specifically, and the G20 trading nations more generally, need to manage their monetary and fiscal policies within a managed exchange rate regime in order to escape the debt-recession trap.

Policy prescription: managed exchange rate regime to align world currency fluctuations.

Rational households and companies may have ‘parked’ demand and production, delayed in the anticipation of an inflationary period with looser monetary policy and competitive devaluations. If their expectations were managed within a managed exchange rate regime then there could be some hope that the real economy may improve as the worlds’ trading nations together plan an exit from the financial crisis. ENDS/PatrickMcNutt

Greek crisis is a sub-game

Europe is in the long game of a United States of Europe and the Greek crisis is one sub-game in the time continuum, but the sub-game to watch in order to define a Nash Equilibrium is a Euro currency crisis…such a crisis has not happended although the Euro at May 2012 is devaluing against Sterling and US dollar.  I had made a similar point in an interview on Bloomberg London last May 2012 [available on my webpage]. A Euro currency crisis will dictate the elements of a final solution [whether Greece departs from the Eurozone]…a devaluing Euro now plays to Germany’s strengthens as an exporter……so we need to look at the Euro as a currency, its stability, its continued credibility as an international currency; if it continues to devalue and risks the United States of Europe then we could observe IMF and G20 exchange intervention [check the Yen crisis in 2011] so it is the Euro currency signals to observe as a critical pattern in order to find an equilibrium and thus comment on the present…For the moment the Euro currency is stable in a devaluing mode, the Greek crisis is a sub-game, of secondary importance to the primacy of the Euro and United States of Europe.